Let me now bring your attention to the heroine of our story. On a planet of constant rain and little sun is a girl of seventeen years. There she is, running with bags of groceries under each arm while holding an umbrella. Her long hair, almost blue from the density in its blackness, waves flag-like in following. A smile is firmly planted on her lips. She is to see the moon tonight.
She runs to her home, a little cottage of a house thatched with tar as all houses are on this planet for protection from the rain. Dull on the outside, the humble home glows golden with candles and soft electric bulbs. Upon entry, her sister and mother help unload her burdened arms as she removes her wet outerwear.
"Shaia Kaim, did you walk here?" asks her mother noticing her drenched state.
"No," says the girl still smiling, "I ran."
"You should have taken the streetcar."
"It was overcrowded and I didn't have the patience to wait. I think everyone wants to go home early today. Besides, the market isn't so far away."
"I'm glad Mr. Yurgen let me off early. I thought he surely wouldn't have and make me close the store," says the sister, Aeureilia. She washes the vegetables as their mother chops them. Shaia, exhorted by family and friends to avoid the culinary realm, prepares the picnic basket they are to use for tonight's dinner.
One can easily perceive the family's similarities. The sisters inherited the gentle lady's jetty hair and alabaster complexion. That is where the physical resemblance ceases. Aeureilia is tall with a swan-like neck and exotic eyes. She is considered to be a beauty, a prize to her gender and race. The elder sister has a boyish frame with simple features. She turns no heads, she gains no stares. This is of little import to either sister for they were raised to mind their character, not their vanity. It is in the women's manner of speaking and graceful carriage that the consanguineous relationship is obvious.
Having completed her tasks, Shaia sits by the window and begins reading a book. It is customary for her to be reading a book written from the past - literature that challenged her mind, imparted a lesson, or deepened her knowledge. She loved reading, following the authors in their quest for truth, riding on horseback with the prince to his damsel, falling in love with the wise and humble professor; she drowned in it, got drunk from it, was saved by it. Currently she is reading the plays of Bernard Shaw; however she cannot focus on Miss Doolittle's trials. She is thinking of tonight. Of the moon. Shaia's recollection of the pale star cannot be conjured by her own accord. Fifteen years before was the last this paltry planet of Imberia showed benevolence by revealing the night sky through gossamer clouds. She was only two at that time, too young for detailed recollection; but her father had no hesitation to quench her curiosities when it came to the moon's description. Still, words and pictures cannot justify a present and personal experience. In excitement she throws aside her book and asks her family if they are about ready. Replied with the affirmative, the three women set off.
Nearby the cottage is a plateau ideally elevated for an event such as this. The local community has gathered and already set up tents to wait in. Music can be heard as the Kaim family reaches the main area. Friends spot them and help pitch their tent. They unfold their portable chairs, take a seat, and wait.
The rain ceases. Buzzes of excitement permeate among the viewers. Shaia tries to calm her heart. How wildly it beats in anticipation! She did not want to get her hopes up. After all, it is just a moon. She had seen a hundreds of pictures before the arrival of this day; but being a romantic does not stop theatrics before practicality. 'Would it look like how father described it?' she wondered. A ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas . . .
"Come, Shaia!" Aeureilia cries. She is already yards away from the tent and is anxious to find a prime spot.
Mrs. Kaim gives an approving nod, then Shaia runs out from the shelter of vinyl to the younger sister. Others follow suit. Someone announces that the clouds are parting. The moon is revealed.
The loud roar of cheers and the flashing of cameras are not noticed by Shaia. She does not even feel Aeureilia shaking her wildly with excitement. She is stunned, paralyzed, in awe of what she sees. I assure you, reader, that you would be too, for this is no earthly moon. This is a leviathan moon, so close in proximity that one thinks it can be touched. Many have already reached out their arms as though their fingertips are caressing the rising massive pearl. It glows softly yet boldly, emanating ethereal beams upon the melancholy planet.
The moonlight is reflected in Shaia's unblinking orbs. She is memorizing this moment: the feelings of wonder, joy, excitement and despair; the cool night breeze; the sounds of celebration. A warm and soft hand slips into hers. Knowing it is her mother, Shaia tightens her grip and sighs. "If I could but see this every night." She turns from the moon and sees her mother's expression of regret when she heard her sister say, "Mother, what is wrong?"
Mrs. Kaim releases a sigh and says, "It is your father's and my wish to give my daughters the very best. It was not in our plans to remain on this dreary planet and have you both here." She smoothes a stray hair on her daughter's head and takes her other daughter's hand. "You deserve more than a life of rain and constant work."
"What words you say! Aeureilia and I are happy and healthy. We have friends, we have each other, a comfortable and dry home, and food on the table every night. We know how to work hard and I don't mind the rain at all. Besides, I would take for granted such beauty," and she points to the moon, "if seen every day, and what a pity that would be for this is truly something worthy of cherishing."
This admission makes Mrs. Kaim smile. She places her hands on Shaia's face. "If only your father could see his girls now. You have both grown to be such good women. My Shaia, how far you've come from your awkward and boyish ways. You are quite the gentle lady now."
"I am not."
"And Aeureilia, remember how shy you used to be? What courage you've shown to overcome such a burden. A prouder mother there could never be. How beautiful you both have become." Mrs. Kaim reads the doubt from her daughters' expressions. "Oh, but you are. Your youthful mind perhaps hazes the true definition; but I see it. People see it. And one day someone worthy of your companionship will take you away from me."
"Imagine that!" Shaia giggles to soften her scoff. Her arms fully embrace the elder woman's form. "Nobody can take me away from my family. Especially not a man, and not without a fight." She winks at her sister and kisses her mother's cheek. "Come, let's eat dinner and soak in these moonbeams, yes?"
It was a festive night. The clouds were predicted to be sparse for the next two hours so the villagers were certain not to waste a minute. Activities that were not performed on account of the weather were all being done now. In the midst of dancing friends, Aeureilia excuses herself and runs to the tent. She returns and produces a heap of colourful tubes and boxes.
"What game is this?" a young friend asks in reference to the recent production.
"Fireworks," beams Aeureilia. "Mr. Yurgen had them purchased for over a year in preparation for tonight. He says it's best if we are the charge of these. Come, let's try them!"
They unanimously cry out in joy and commence ignition of the hand-held sparklers. Some boys take the larger fireworks to a distance and not long after an explosion of color and design fill the sky. This sight, as well, takes away our heroine's breath. So simple and ancient, fireworks, but for someone to witness them for the first time can be construed as miraculous. "Oh, Aeureilia," she says, her gaze still fixated, "but I'm in heaven."
"I'm in love." Aeureilia smiles at her success of distraction. The elder sister is nonplussed. "I am in love with this moment," she explains. "Can you see an end to beauty tonight? The moon is full, the skies are clear, we have fireworks, friends, family. Are we not at the essence of freedom right now? We all of us are like children with no responsibility other than to express happiness to the fullest. Let's play as fairies, like our younger years," she hands Shaia a sparkler, "and bestow as many wishes and blessings until our last flame flickers."
The sisters run with each other, waving their sparkling wands of magic to friends and neighbours, designing shapes that leave a luminous linger. They laugh and laugh until the glittering trails of gold fade. Yet the moment is not over. The moon beckons their attention. They seat themselves not too far off from the rest, and they exhale contentedly. Shaia starts thinking; her vice and virtue. "Is nature naturally beautiful, or did someone make it to be beautiful? Or is it beautiful because I choose it to be beautiful?"
Aeureilia says nothing for she knows this is simply rhetoric. Both possess extroverted tendencies of verbal cogitation. She expresses her version with: "I wonder if father sees the moon. The same moon that we are seeing."
Shaia reflects on this. For a moment she is angered that he is not here today, as though he chose to leave and could choose to return but didn't. A mental chastisement follows. She asks forgiveness to her father in the case that he can hear her thoughts. "I miss him," she says with sadness.
"I, too. But we have each other."
"Yes. For that I am grateful. I am nothing without you and mother. I hope we are never apart."
"You cannot deny your future anymore. You'll have to marry soon."
Shaia plucks a blade of grass. "I can deny my future and I will not marry. I'd like to be an old maid, thank you."
"Be stubborn all you like, but when loves comes along you will be whisked away, being the romantic that you are. And then you will leave us and forget all about us."
"I should say the same to you! Has not your co-worker asked for your courtship three times already?"
"Windon is just a boy. Besides, I will never neglect my family, come boy or man or knight in shining armor."
"I should hope not. You'll probably marry before I do, so I shall take your word for it. But let's stop this talk of leaving each other. We are here, we are now." Shaia sees that her sister is even more beautiful in the moonlight. "Stay still, I shall take your picture." This is a Kaim trademark, a practice forged from poverty. Cameras, though a luxury unaffordable, are not limited to metal and mechanics. Shaia holds up her hands and creates a frame with her thumbs and fingers. The image of her sister staring off peacefully is now imprinted in her memory. She smiles in satisfaction.
The moon's glow now seems dim with sadness. Cloud gossamers arrive appropriately.
She hears footsteps. A young man, friend to Shaia, approaches her side as she rises. He looks at her for a moment before saying, "So, is this the Earth moon you've always dreamed of?"
"Oh, Jens, this is more. This is heavenly." Her eyes are still fixed to the sky. She is naïve to his feelings.
However, Aeureilia is not. She politely excuses herself and joins her mother. The young man smiles. He wants to say something but words do not come out. He tries once more. "Shaia, I'd like tell you something."
She sees he is nervous. "What is it, Jens?"
"We have been friends for quite some time, and I feel that my feelings for you have grown into something more." The young woman shows no reaction. Jens continues. "If you happen to reciprocate these feelings, I would ask you to consider courting me." His young face, so earnest in its request, looks almost pained. In the moment, Shaia is warmed and flattered.
"Yes, Jens. You have more than my consideration."
The young man is jubilant though he is unsure what to do with it. "Truly? Is this your honest answer?"
"Yes, but you mustn't get your hopes too high. I fear I may disappoint you too quickly."
"That isn't possible."
"You already start." Her smile is teasing. Jens laughs and begins on the defensive, when the rain begins to pour. Everyone is running back to the tents. Mumbles replace laughter. Away the kites, away the bonfires. The festivities are over. Yet Shaia and her new suitor are still happy. They don't mind the rain.
"Can I call on you tomorrow? Perhaps for dinner?"
"I'd like that. I end work at four." She hears her mother's call. "I must go. Goodnight, then."
She hastens to walk home with her family. She turns her head and sees her new suitor still standing by the crevice. When her mother inquires of her bashful smile, she links arms with her and her sister and says nothing. This was a night not soon to be forgotten.
"Goodbye, Miss Kaim!"
Various students repeat this phrase ten or twelve times. Shaia stands at the classroom door and waves back to her pupils. She cleans her desk, packs her bag, then locks the door. Her room is small, her class much smaller, but she is happy being an elementary teacher. She bids farewell to her fellow colleagues and begins her walk home. The precipitation is heavy today. Shaia opens her multi-colored umbrella and is pulled sharply by the wind. She recovers quickly and is grateful that her umbrella is sturdy. Her bright blue raincoat and yellow rain boots also serve her well. Gloom is defied by color in Imberia, which Shaia expresses with fashion. She sighs a sigh that is of mixed feelings. It has been one month since her courting with Jens. By the by she knows his attachments are getting stronger, but for perplexing reasons she is not able to share the same affections for him. In the beginning she was excited to have a suitor. Do all young females not feel the rushing of the heart, the desire for good looks, the daydreamt smiles? In truth he was good company. He was kind to her, kind to others, and he was to inherit his father's metal shop. As her mother said, 'he's a good boy and a good match.' Conversation glib and mirth aplenty, she should be lucky to have him.
'Yes,' Shaia mentally says to herself, 'I'm merely being picky. After all, love that comes fleetingly passes fleetingly. It's best to take our time.'
She reaches her home and pulls out her house key. Before she has the chance to unlock it, the door opens. Aeureilia is about to absent herself. The sisters startle at each other.
"Where are you going?" the elder asks.
"I've been invited to a party."
"What party? With whom?"
"A customer I met at work today. He was very charming. I told him I was interested in painting and he told me his friend is holding an exhibition tonight. He invited me to come."
Shaia was always wary of strangers concerning her sister. Ironically naiveté was her constant downfall. "What is this man's name?"
"I don't know. Cayne or Calis. Something or other."
"Where is he from?"
"Perhaps from Imberia. Perhaps from Vitoile." (The latter is a neighboring planet.)
"You don't know his name or where he is from? At least you know he's an artist."
"Well, no, not necessarily. His friend is the one holding the exhibition."
Shaia crosses her arms. "I'm not sure if you should go."
"It's perfectly harmless. It's only four in the afternoon. And besides, how often do we get to have an exhibition in our pokey little town?" She sees her sister's dismay. She attempts a persuasive smile. "It'll be a great learning experience."
"I have an odd feeling, Aeureilia."
"You always have odd feelings. Come with me, then, if it'll put your mind at ease."
"I've grading to do."
"Then I'll see you in two hours." Aeureilia walks off.
Shaia hesitates for a second then closes the door and runs after her sister. "I'm coming! Wait!"
"I didn't think the exhibition would be this popular," Aeureilia said.
Shaia glances at the mediocre art and replies, "I don't see why either."
The gallery is small and bare with a low ceiling. The mood is drab, perhaps to match the paintings. An unflattering glare of fluorescent light reflects off of the windowless walls. There is a soft murmur from the fifty some-odd people in the room.
"The customer seemed like he knew what he was talking of. He said that this was an exhibition of revolutionary work. Well, the artists must be famous because they had to cut off the guests. See? No one else is allowed in."
"Oh, Aeureilia, does mother know that we're gone?"
"No, but we should be back before she comes home. Actually, I'd like to leave soon. This isn't what the man described it to be."
"I'm glad," Shaia laughs in relief, "I thought that perhaps your standards of art lowered to a very stunted bar."
"I hope not! Let me quickly say hello and goodbye to the customer. For courtesy's sake, of course. I actually don't even know if he's come or gone."
Shaia protectively follows her sister. "Aeureilia, are you sure he is a decent man?"
And then all was black.